London Theatre Preview: ANGELS IN AMERICA (National Theatre Live Screening)

by Tony Frankel on July 19, 2017

in Extras,Film,Theater-Regional

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ANGELS IN AMERICA APPROACHES

In two sprawling works written in the 1980’s, Tony Kushner brought alive the American national scene of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, mixing raw naturalism with fantasy, dreams, visions, and hallucinations. It was, and remains today, a dazzling achievement that’s worth every minute of nearly eight hours of cumulative playing time. Not only is the current revival one of London’s hottest theater tickets, but the National Theatre Live screening of this multi-award-winning two-part play is selling quickly. Part One: Millennium Approaches will be in select cinemas nationwide from July 20 and Part Two: Perestroika will be in cinemas from July 27, 2017, with select encore screenings for both. This new staging of Kushner’s multi-award winning two-part play is directed by Olivier and Tony award winning director Marianne Elliott (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and War Horse).

Kushner subtitled the two Angel plays “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” All the male characters in both plays are homosexual, though a couple of them are initially in denial. The plays are heavily weighted toward gay love affairs, often sexually graphic, but Kushner also injects trenchant observations on race and politics in America along with explorations of the nature of God and the topography of heaven—examinations which are are not very favorable toward their subjects.

In the midst of the AIDS crisis and a conservative Reagan administration, New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell. The core characters are a mix of real life and fictional figures. The dominant real life character is lawyer and Trump mentor Roy Cohn (Nathan Lane of The Producers) one of the most powerful and detested figures of the McCarthy era of the 1950’s. The major fictional character is a drag queen named Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield of Silence and Hacksaw Ridge) with his tangled romantic relations with politically liberal Louis Ironson (James McArdle of Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and an arch-conservative Republican Mormon named Joe Pitt (Russell Tovey of The Pass).

The other key characters are Joe Pitt’s mentally unstable wife Harper (Denise Gough of People, Places and Things), Joe’s mother Hannah (Susan Brown), a black gay hospital nurse named Belize (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), and an angel (Amanda Lawrence) who ascends periodically from the rafters in a blinding and deafening crescendo of light and sound.

Kushner’s commentary on the personalities of the conservative Reagan years is satiric and biting. The Republicans of the Reagan administration are smug, power-hungry, greedy, and intolerant, and Roy Cohn is their poster boy. Cohn is a fascinating character study: a brutal, corrupt, and hateful figure, he is yet a man with wit and intelligence.

The twin themes of AIDS and the Reagan years have retreated in the past two decades from national preoccupation to national history. Kushner’s plays exploded on the American scene 20 years ago to rub the country’s noses in the horror of the AIDS epidemic and the sleaze of right wing political manipulations. The language was raw and the visual images of gay sex were startling and controversial for the time. This production brings back that immediacy with startlingly fresh performances and a keen vision.

photos by Helen Maybanks

Angels in America
National Theatre Live and Fathom Events
Part One: Millennium Approaches
screens July 20, 2017
Part Two: Perestroika
screens July 27, 2017
for theaters, showtimes, and encores
visit National Theatre Live and Fathom

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